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Ars Technica
Syndicate content Ars Technica
Serving the Technologist for more than a decade. IT news, reviews, and analysis.
Updated: 1 hour 23 min ago

Billion-year-old fossils may be early fungus

2 hours 56 min ago

Enlarge (credit: Loron, et. al.)

When did the first complex multicellular life arise? Most people, being a bit self-centered, would point to the Ediacaran and Cambrian, when the first animal life appeared and then diversified. Yet studies of DNA suggest that fungi may have originated far earlier than animals.

When it comes to a fossil record, however, things are rather sparse. No unambiguous evidence of a fungus appears in fossils until after the Cambrian was over. A few things from earlier may have looked fungus-like, but the evidence was limited to their appearance. It could be that fungi branched off at the time suggested by the DNA but didn't evolve complex, multicellular structures until later. Alternatively, the fossils could be right, and there's something off about the DNA data. Or, finally, it could be that we simply haven't found old enough fossils yet.

A new paper out in today's Nature argues strongly for the last option. In it, a small team of researchers describe fossils of what appear to be fungi that could be up to a billion years old. And the researchers back up the appearance with a chemical analysis.

Read 12 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Anti-abortion clinics that try to trick women face new Google ad policy

May 22, 2019 - 10:38pm

Enlarge / MONTGOMERY, Ala. - MAY 19, 2019: A protestor dressed as a character from the Hulu TV show The Handmaid's Tale, based on the best-selling novel by Margaret Atwood, walks back to her car after participating in a rally against one of the nation's most restrictive bans on abortions. (credit: Getty | Julie Bennett)

Google will roll out a policy next month to crack down on deceptive advertisements dealing with abortion—a topic rife with misleading and false health information.

The policy changes come amid backlash from a report in The Guardian saying that the tech giant granted $150,000 worth of free advertisements to The Obria Group, which runs a network of clinics across the United States that are funded by Catholic organizations. Obria's advertisements have suggested that the clinics (aka Crisis Pregnancy Centers) provide abortions and other medical services. But the clinics are in fact opposed to abortion and all forms of contraception, including condoms. According to The Guardian, the misleading advertisements are an attempt to bait "abortion-minded women" so that the clinics can then deter them from terminating their pregnancies.

To ostensibly address this problem, Google will now require all advertisers in the United States, Ireland, and the United Kingdom who run abortion-related ads to submit to a pre-certification. The process is intended to identify the types of services that the advertisers provide. All of their subsequent advertising will then be automatically and clearly labeled with either "Provides abortions" or "Does not provide abortions."

Read 5 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Amazon made video games for its workers to reduce tedium of warehouse jobs

May 22, 2019 - 10:22pm

Enlarge / Workers and packages inside an Amazon warehouse. (credit: Getty Images | Macduff Everton)

Amazon has created video games that its warehouse workers can "play" while they fill customer orders in an effort to speed up fulfillment and relieve the tedium of packing products into boxes.

The Washington Post described the warehouse games in a report yesterday:

Developed by Amazon, the games are displayed on small screens at employees' workstations. As robots wheel giant shelves up to each workstation, lights or screens indicate which item the worker needs to pluck to put into a bin. The games simultaneously register the completion of the task, which is tracked by scanning devices, and can pit individuals, teams or entire floors against one another to be fastest, simply by picking or stowing real Lego sets, cellphone cases or dish soap. Game-playing employees are rewarded with points, virtual badges and other goodies throughout a shift.

Think Tetris, but with real boxes.

Amazon has deployed the games in "five warehouses from suburban Seattle to near Manchester in Britain, after starting to offer them at a lone warehouse in late 2017," the Post wrote. The games ratchet up workplace competition, while "slyly pushing workers to raise the stakes among themselves to pack more boxes bound for customer homes," the Post wrote. (The Washington Post is owned by Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos.)

Read 11 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Apple’s WWDC 2019 keynote will detail iOS 13, macOS 10.15, and more on June 3

May 22, 2019 - 9:25pm

Enlarge / Neon emoji and animoji images accompanied the invites to press.

Apple has sent out invites to the press for its Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC) keynote—or as the invite calls it, a "special event." The event will take place on June 3 at 10am PDT. Ars will be in attendance to liveblog the proceedings and all the announcements.

Sometimes the invites Apple sends out contain hints as to what will be announced. It seems members of the press received various graphics depicting neon emoji and animoji images set against midnight blue backgrounds—perhaps to evoke iOS 13's rumored Dark Mode. Ars received the above emoji.

We're expecting extensive details about the company's major three OS releases that are expected later in the year: iOS 13 for the iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch; macOS 10.15 for the Mac; and watchOS 6 for the Apple Watch.

Read 4 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Mario Kart Tour beta hands-on: Microtransactions land like a nasty blue shell

May 22, 2019 - 8:58pm

Enlarge / This is the only Mario Kart Tour closed beta image we're officially allowed to share. (credit: Nintendo)

Nintendo's first racing game for smartphones, Mario Kart Tour, is barreling like a red shell toward a free-to-play launch on iOS and Android later this year. But today's kickoff of a closed-beta test (only on Android, only for randomly invited users) makes me wonder whether Nintendo and its development partner, DeNA, should tap the brakes in a huge way.

From a sheer gameplay standpoint, Mario Kart Tour is actually a pretty solid facsimile of the classic series, albeit with a couple of puzzling design decisions. But the game's path to monetization is the most brazen yet applied to a Nintendo smartphone app.

Don’t look! Don’t you dare look at the leaked videos!

In good news, Mario Kart Tour plays much like the series' past 25 years of home and handheld versions. Race on go-karts through cartoony racetracks while picking up and using weapons (turtle shells, banana peels) and boost items ("nitro" mushrooms, mostly). In this version, your kart automatically accelerates, so use your fingers to steer left or right, tap weapon items to activate them (with a forward- or back-flick to direct them as needed), and pick from one of two drifting options to trigger "micro-boosts" in speed.

Read 18 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Seattle makes history with electric garbage truck

May 22, 2019 - 6:36pm

Enlarge / This is Recology's new BYD 8R, the first electric rear-loading class 8 garbage truck in the US. (credit: BYD)

If you live in Seattle, your scheduled garbage pickup might be about to get a lot quieter. Recology, a West Coast waste management company, has just taken the delivery of its first fully electric garbage trucks. The vehicle is a class 8 truck—meaning the heaviest—made by BYD, with New Way supplying the Viper rear-loading garbage truck body. It's also apparently the first electric class 8 rear-loader in the country and the first of two that Recology ordered last year.

The BYD's specs make for very different reading compared to the average electric vehicles we cover. The powertrain is a 320kW (430hp), 1101Nm (812ft-lbs) electric motor, supplied by a 295kWh battery pack. However, it does have to carry around a truck with a 21,605lb (9,800kg) curb weight, and it can be optioned to a gross vehicle weight of either 57,500lbs (26,082kg) or 66,000lbs (29,937kg). (Interestingly, the photo BYD sent us has the GVW at 50,000lbs on the door.)

All that mass means the truck is limited to a 65mph (104km/h) top speed and a range of 56 miles (90km) and 600 pickups. Recharging the truck doesn't take as long as you think, despite all those kWh—nine hours connected to a 33kW AC outlet. The 8R supports either 120kW or 240kW DC fast charging, which takes 2.5 hours or 1.5 hours to recharge, respectively.

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Superconductivity reported at the temperature of a good freezer

May 22, 2019 - 6:00pm

Enlarge (credit: Manmohan Singh | Getty Images)

Superconductivity offers the promise of hyper-efficient electric motors, ultra powerful magnets, and the transmission of electricity without losses. The reality, however, has fallen considerably short of that promise, as superconducting materials are difficult and expensive to manufacture, requiring a constant bath of liquid nitrogen to keep them cold enough to operate. And progress at identifying new high-temperature superconductors went through an extended stall, with no new contenders for decades.

But behind that stall, researchers were getting a better understanding of the physics involved with superconductivity, and that understanding seems to be paying off. A few years back, researchers found that a high-pressure form of hydrogen sulfide would superconduct at 203K (-70°C), roughly 65K higher than any previous material. Now, following up on suggestions from computer modeling, researchers have discovered that a metal-hydrogen compound (LaH10) can superconduct all the way up to 250K. That's roughly -25°C, a temperature that can be reached by a good freezer.

Unfortunately, its superconductivity is dependent upon pressure and required compressing the sample between two diamonds. But the results do tell us that our understanding is on the right track, and there are undoubtedly additional chemicals worth examining.

Read 12 remaining paragraphs | Comments

ARM is the latest partner to shun Huawei, so how will it design chips?

May 22, 2019 - 5:13pm

Enlarge (credit: Getty Images)

It looks like Huawei is not just being shunned by the US, but now, the world! According to a report from the BBC, ARM has told its employees the US export ban means it can no longer work with Huawei, dealing a crippling blow to Huawei's SoC division, HiSilicon, and to Huawei's ability to create smartphone chips in the future.

Trade War! USA v. China

View more stories ARM's interpretation of the US export ban comes as a surprise, as the company is not based in the US. ARM's headquarters are in Cambridge, UK (hence the BBC scoop), and it was bought by Japan's Softbank in 2016. Everyone in the tech industry is still discovering how broadly Trump's executive order will be interpreted, and ARM believes it is affected due to its designs containing “US origin technology." ARM has more than 40 offices around the world, including eight in the US.

ARM doesn't manufacture smartphone chips but instead licenses its intellectual property to other vendors. The ARM CPU architecture is the dominant instruction set in smartphones and embedded computers, and it's a rival to Intel's x86 architecture mainly seen in PCs and servers. Qualcomm, MediaTek, Apple, Samsung, and Huawei are all ARM architecture licensees and, as a consequence, nearly every smartphone on the market uses an ARM-based CPU. Besides the basic architecture, ARM also licenses out "Cortex" CPU designs and "Mali" GPU designs, which are often used by these licensees as a basis for their own SoCs.

Read 6 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Consumer Reports: Latest Autopilot “far less competent than a human”

May 22, 2019 - 5:01pm

Enlarge / A Tesla Model 3. (credit: Smith Collection/Gado/Getty Images)

In recent weeks, Tesla has been pushing out a new version of Autopilot with automatic lane-change capabilities to Model 3s—including one owned by Consumer Reports. So the group dispatched several drivers to highways around the group's car-testing center in Connecticut to test the feature. The results weren't good.

The "latest version of Tesla's automatic lane-changing feature is far less competent than a human driver," Consumer Reports declares.

Tesla introduced its Navigate on Autopilot feature a few months ago, but at first, it would ask the driver to confirm lane changes. More recently Tesla has given drivers the option to have Autopilot initiate lane changes without confirmation. But CR's reviewers argue that feature isn't ready for prime time.

Read 11 remaining paragraphs | Comments

T-Mobile/Sprint merger faces big trouble at DOJ despite FCC approval

May 22, 2019 - 4:38pm

Enlarge / T-Mobile CEO John Legere (left) and then-Sprint CEO Marcelo Claure during an interview on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange on April 30, 2018. (credit: Getty Images | Bloomberg)

The Department of Justice's antitrust staff has recommended blocking T-Mobile's attempted purchase of Sprint, Reuters reported today, citing an anonymous source.

DOJ staff "fear that after the deal T-Mobile will no longer aggressively seek to cut prices and improve service to woo customers away from market leaders Verizon and AT&T," Reuters wrote. A final decision is expected to come in about a month.

To block the merger, the DOJ would have to sue in federal court and convince a judge that the merger violates antitrust law. DOJ staff recommendations can influence agency decisions on whether to file antitrust lawsuits, but they aren't automatically followed. The DOJ's decision will be made by antitrust chief Makan Delrahim, a Trump appointee.

Read 6 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Belgian loot box decision takes down some of Nintendo’s mobile games

May 22, 2019 - 4:31pm

An example of the randomized hero summons in Fire Emblem Heroes

Nintendo has become the latest publisher affected by a 2018 decision by Belgium's Gaming Commission to treat games with randomized loot boxes as an illegal form of gambling. The publisher announced that mobile titles Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp and Fire Emblem Heroes will be shut down in Belgium on August 27. In a published statement that was translated by Eurogamer, Nintendo of Belgium chalks up the move "to the current unclear situation in Belgium regarding certain in-game revenue models."

Fire Emblem Heroes lets players summon new heroes via a "gacha"-style mechanic that provides random characters to assist in battle. Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp also offers randomized boxes of "fortune cookies" that can contain some of the game's most valuable items. Both would seem to be a clear violation of the Belgian Gaming Commission's 2018 ruling, which prohibits titles that offer variable in-game items via "games of chance."

Blizzard, Valve, and 2K quickly removed or altered games for the country in the wake of the ruling, and EA gave up a legal fight against Belgian regulators in January. It's not clear why Nintendo took so much longer to be directly affected by Belgium's decision or why these game removals don't also apply in the Netherlands, which has ruled similarly against loot boxes.

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Democratic Party’s network security still lags behind GOP, researchers find

May 22, 2019 - 4:19pm

Enlarge / The Democratic National Committee (DNC) has improved its information security since 2016, but it still has some weaknesses that could be exploited by attackers, researchers at SecurityScorecard found. The Republican National Committee is still a little ahead but has problems of its own. (credit: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

In a study of US and European political parties' security postures, researchers at the security-monitoring company SecurityScorecard found that while the Democratic National Committee had made "significant investments" in security since being hacked in 2016, the Democrats still lagged behind the Republican National Committee's defenses. And both parties have problems that could still leak personally identifying information about voters.

According to the report, one major US political party was "programmatically leaking" personal information about voters through a voting validation application "which enumerates voter name, date of birth and address via search terms," the researchers noted. The vulnerability was disclosed to the party involved and other "appropriate parties."

SecurityScorecard's team looked at the DNC, RNC, Green Party, and Libertarian Party in the US. The Green Party had the best overall scores for security measures, while the Libertarian Party had a more laissez-faire approach to information security than the others—with a failing grade for its management of its domain name records, specifically for a total absence of Sender Protection Framework (SPF) records. The lack of SPF records means that it's more likely Libertarian Party domains could be spoofed in spear-phishing campaigns like those that were used to target the DNC in 2016. The Libertarians did come out ahead on network security scores, however.

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Android at I/O 2019: The Project Mainline update system and other highlights

May 22, 2019 - 3:31pm

Google I/O 2019 wrapped up on May 9th, but we're still picking through the incredible flood of information that came out of the show. In addition to the slew of announcements on keynote day, there are dozens of hours of sessions and documentation, plus a whole new Android release to pick though. Here are a few highlights from the show.

Android’s gesture navigation is actually good now

Every Google I/O presents a new release of Android, and paired with Google I/O 2019 is Android Q Beta 3. There really aren't a ton of changes in this beta release, but there is a new navigation system. There are three versions of system navigation in Android Q Beta 3, actually. The traditional three-button navigation is an option, even on devices like the Pixel 3, which originally did not ship with it. Apparently, the three-button mode will be returning to all phones for accessibility considerations, since the gesture system requires a significant amount of fine motor control. The existing Android Pie gesture system has been renamed "two-button navigation." The third option, called "Fully gestural navigation, "is new for Android Q Beta 3, and it's the best version of Android gesture navigation yet.

In Android P, the "two-button" gesture navigation was a bit of a mess. Google only replaced the Recent Apps button with a gesture, and Home and Back were still buttons. The bar didn't save any space, so there wasn't a huge benefit to using it. Beta three solves a lot of these problems. Every button is now a gesture. The navigation bar has been minimized to a slim strip about a third of the height of the usual bar. Some apps will even give you a fully transparent gesture navigation area. The new setup is very reminiscent of iOS, and that's what everyone has been asking for since the launch of gesture navigation with Android P.

Read 35 remaining paragraphs | Comments

An exhaustive look at Oculus Quest’s first day of great, wireless VR software

May 22, 2019 - 1:00pm

Enlarge (credit: Oculus / Aurich Lawson)

Three weeks ago, I had many positive things to say in my Oculus Quest VR system review. It's wireless, it's simple to use, and it runs on the bleeding edge of just powerful enough for engrossing "six degrees of freedom" (6DOF) virtual reality.

Thankfully, that review was driven by a variety of pre-release software—which means we didn't have to guess how the hardware's strengths and weaknesses bore out for retail games and apps. But in the time since that article went live, Oculus has dumped even more software into our devices.

So much software, in fact, that we decided to do something we haven't done in a while: a launch-day software guide for a game platform's launch. The last platform to get such an Ars treatment, coincidentally, was Sony's PlayStation VR in 2016but that was a "buy, try, avoid" breakdown of its 14 exclusive games.

Read 72 remaining paragraphs | Comments

“Quacks” blamed for HIV outbreak that infected hundreds of kids

May 22, 2019 - 11:45am

Enlarge / A Pakistani paramedic takes a blood sample from a baby for a HIV test at a state-run hospital in Rato Dero in the district of Larkana of the southern Sindh province on May 9, 2019. (credit: Getty | RIZWAN TABASSUM)

More than 600 people—most of them children, aged one month to 15 years—have tested positive for HIV in the southern Pakistani town of Ratto Dero, numerous news outlets have reported.

While officials are still investigating the cause of the outbreak, health workers say that rogue doctors and unqualified people practicing medicine are behind the virus’ spread, mostly from using contaminated syringes. Such medical charlatans are popular in the area because they’re often cheaper and more accessible than trained medical providers.

Of the 607 or so confirmed cases in the outbreak so far, 75 percent are in children, according to reporting from the BBC. Cases started appearing in February when parents brought their children to doctors and hospitals with unexplained fevers that lingered. Once word spread that ill children were testing positive for HIV, parents began rushing their kids to a special camp set up by the health department at a local hospital.

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WannaCry? Hundreds of US schools still haven’t patched servers [Updated]

May 21, 2019 - 10:48pm

Enlarge / School IT is old school. And still vulnerable to EternalBlue. (credit: PhotoAlto / Frederic Cirou / Getty Images)

If you're wondering why ransomware continues to be such a problem for state and local governments and other public institutions, all you have to do to get an answer is poke around the Internet a little. Publicly accessible security-scan data shows that many public organizations have failed to do more than put a bandage over long-standing system vulnerabilities that, if successfully exploited, could bring their operations to a standstill.

While the method by which RobbinHood ransomware infected the network of Baltimore City two weeks ago is still unknown, insiders within city government have pointed to the incomplete efforts by the Office of Information Technology to get a handle on the city's tangle of software, aging servers, and wide-flung network infrastructure. Baltimore isn't even the only city to have been hit by ransomware in the last month—Lynn, Massachusetts, and Cartersville, Georgia, both had electronic payment systems taken offline by ransomware this month. Greenville, North Carolina, was struck by the same RobbinHood ransomware affecting Baltimore in April.

But cities aren't the only highly vulnerable targets to be found by would-be attackers. There are hundreds of thousands of Internet-connected Windows systems in the United States that still appear to be vulnerable to an exploit of Microsoft Windows' Server Message Block version 1 (SMB v. 1) file sharing protocol, despite repeated public warnings to patch systems following the worldwide outbreak of the WannaCry cryptographic malware two years ago. And based on data from the Shodan search engine and other public sources, hundreds of them—if not thousands—are servers in use at US public school systems.

Read 5 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Cable TV customer satisfaction falls even further behind streaming video

May 21, 2019 - 10:33pm

Enlarge (credit: Getty Images | amesy)

Netflix and other online video services have expanded their customer-satisfaction lead over cable and satellite TV, the American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI) found in its annual telecommunications report released today.

Streaming-video services averaged a score of 76 on the ACSI's 100-point scale, up from 75 last year. Meanwhile, the traditional subscription-TV industry's score remained unchanged at 62.

"For the past six years, customer satisfaction with subscription TV has languished in the mid-to-low 60s, not recovering enough to effectively compete with streaming services," the ACSI report said. "In 2018, subscription sales declined 3 percent to $103.4 billion. Customer service remains poor, and cord cutting is accelerating. As video-streaming services gain traction, a growing number of households may never subscribe to pay TV in the first place."

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A year after Hawaii’s Kīlauea eruptions, a nearby geothermal plant eyes restart

May 21, 2019 - 10:14pm

Enlarge / May 21, 2018: Lava erupts and flows from a Kīlauea volcano fissure, near to the Puna Geothermal Venture (PGV) plant on Hawaii's Big Island near Pahoa, Hawaii. The plant, currently shut down in the wake of encroaching volcanic activity, provides electricity to around 25 percent of the island. (credit: Mario Tama/Getty Images)

Last May, Hawaii's Kīlauea volcano erupted suddenly, starting a weeks-long lava creep that destroyed dozens of homes and required thousands of residents to be evacuated. Among the structural casualties, the lava also threatened an important source of electricity on the Island of Hawaii: the Puna Geothermal Complex.

Now, the company behind Puna is projecting that the complex may be restarted by the end of this year, following a potential renegotiation of its contract with Hawaii Electric Light Company.

Geothermal plants like Puna create electricity by using the natural heat of underground rocks to heat a working fluid that produces steam to drive a turbine. Puna provided 25 percent of the electricity that served Hawaii (just the Big Island, not the whole Aloha State). So it was an important low-carbon energy source on an island that has historically imported oil to meet its primary energy needs. Although the Big Island has been aggressively incorporating solar power and energy storage onto its grid, petroleum still plays a prominent role in serving the island, which not only creates carbon emissions but also drives the price of electricity up for residents because the oil must be imported.

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Windows 10 May 2019 Update now rolling out to everyone… slowly

May 21, 2019 - 9:50pm

Enlarge (credit: David Holt / Flickr)

To avoid a replay of the problems faced by the Windows 10 October 2018 Update, version 1809, Microsoft has taken a very measured approach to the release of the May 2019 Update, version 1903, with both a long spell as release candidate and a much less aggressive rollout to Windows Update.

That rollout starts today. While you previously needed to be in the Insider Program (or have a source such as an MSDN subscription) to download and install version 1903, it's now open to everyone through Windows Update.

However, Windows users are unlikely to see the update automatically installed for many months. Initially, only those who explicitly visit Windows Update and click "Check for Updates" will be offered version 1903, and even then, they'll have to explicitly choose to download and install the update. This is part of Microsoft's attempt to make Windows Update less surprising: feature updates are offered separately from regular updates because feature updates take a long time to install and regular updates don't (or at least, they shouldn't). This installation experience requires the use of version 1803 or 1809, and it also requires the most recent monthly patch, which is also released today.

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All hail the Chosen One: Schwarzenegger and Fassbender to star in Kung Fury 2

May 21, 2019 - 9:00pm

Enlarge / David Sandberg will reprise his role as Kung Fury, a Miami detective with superpowers who travels through time to take out Hitler. (credit: YouTube/Laser Unicorns)

Kung Fury is a ridiculously over-the-top short film that became an instant cult classic, racking up over 32 million views on YouTube since it debuted in 2015. And according to The Hollywood Reporter, there's now going to be a feature-length sequel, Kung Fury 2, with Arnold Schwarzenegger and Michael Fassbender signed on as co-stars. It will go into production at the end of July, primarily filming in Bulgaria and Germany.

Created by (and starring) Swedish filmmaker David Sandberg (not to be confused with Shazam!'s David F. Sandberg), the original Kung Fury pays tribute to cheesy 1980s action flicks and included a cameo by David Hasselhoff as the voice of vehicle navigation system Hoff 9000. It's the story of a renegade Miami police detective with kung fu superpowers who goes back in time to take out Hitler (aka "Kung Führer"). Along the way, Kung Fury (yup, that's his name) gets a little help from Thor, a couple of Viking babes, a computer whiz who can transform into a robot, and Triceracop (a man with the head of a triceratops). Together, they form a fighting force dubbed the Thundercops. What's not to love?

Sandberg wrote the script and shot a trailer with friends to launch a Kickstarter campaign to complete the original short. He ended up raising $630,000 and somehow cobbled together Kung Fury. It was shot in Sweden and used stock footage (for the giant wolf ridden by Viking babe Katana), miniature models, and even included a short animated "heaven" sequence. It debuted at the 2015 Cannes Film Festival, and even though it didn't win any prizes, it proved an instant favorite among critics.

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